Sinn Fein upsurge causes distress in Downing Street

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

The upsurge of Sinn Fein in the Stromont election has caused distress, not only among the unionist community but is also the cause of much anxiety in Downing Street.

Nobody at Westminster, and that includes Theresa May, was expecting such an outcome to an election caused by the notorious Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

The irony, as it as seen in London, was that the peace process has actually benefitted the party of the IRA.

Now, alas, moderate politicians in smaller parties, cannot get their voices heard amid the shouting match between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

In three weeks time, we shall know which course Northern Ireland will take.

But the situation is alarming, as the United Kingdom government now privately and readily recognises.

• What is the point of the continued existence of Ukip, now that voters endorsed the concept of Brexit in the referendum last June?

You might think they would quietly and happily disperse under the banner of “mission accomplished”.

But no. Ukip does not disperse and it certainly does not do anything quietly. At the moment, they are engaged in a bitter and savage civil war of self-destruction that makes the troubles in the Labour Party seem tame by comparison.

Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage is having a blistering feud with the party’s only MP, Popeye the Sailorman lookalike Douglas Carswell, who is said to be inching back towards his former party the Tories again.

The mud has been flying in all directions as the two men hurl insult after insult at each other.

If Carswell really does want to rejoin the Conservatives, which he denies, he could do that by simply announcing that and staying in Parliament. But that could bring his political career to an abrupt halt.

If he did the honourable thing and resigned to create a by-election, where would he go? Surely his former Clacton Conservative Party would not welcome back a defector who has twice defeated them at the polls.

And I cannot see other constituency Conservative parties taking on a turncoat - especially someone who may do it twice.

Meanwhile Farage’s friendship with President Trump must do wonders for his already considerable ego, but I would doubt whether it will earn him brownie points anywhere else.

Elsewhere, businessman Arron Banks, Ukip’s biggest benefactor, has described the current leader Paul Nuttall as “weak” and claimed the party is being run like a squash club committee.

What an utter shambles! Perhaps David Cameron was right when he described Ukip as a home for loonies and fruitcakes.

• If you are expecting an end-to-austerity Budget and a crash-bang-wallop spending spree on Wednesday, prepare for an acute shock.

Theresa May’s abrupt removal of George Osborne from the Treasury and the arrival of his replacement, the dour Philip Hammond does not mean the Treasury’s fiscal policies are suddenly to be turned upside down.

The UK economy has – to the pleasant surprise of many - stood up well to the EU referendum result last June, but that is not a signal to untie the purse strings and spray money all over the place. That would be both “reckless and unsustainable” Hammond has warned.

However, with higher-than-expected tax receipts, Hammond should be able to undershoot his borrowing target, with the expectation of a £45 billion windfall over the next five years.

In fact the principal – and possibly the only – serious beneficiaries from this “manna from heaven” seem likely to be the perpetually ailing National Health Service and social care, which is becoming an increasing problem as people live longer.

Technical training should also benefit, as well as a tough new stance on tax avoidance.

Closer to home, we are also likely to see an attack on the scourge of the small print and unintelligible language used often in even small contracts with long-suffering consumers.

Hammond is not renowned as an all-singing, all-dancing politician, and he is unlikely to put the British nation in that mood either after Wednesday.

• Is the House of Lords getting too big for its boots? Their lordships’ vote on EU migrants living in Britain is beginning to look like a serious challenge to the elected House of Commons. But the Upper Chamber is not supposed to be at war with the Commons – it is supposed to support it.

If such a clash is repeated, it could lead to a constitutional crisis with the Lords suffering serious curbs on its present powers – or even worse.

Abolishing the House of Lords seems like an easy thing to do, but in fact it would cost hours upon hours of Parliamentary time. Even so, Theresa May is not afraid of drastic action if she believes it is required.

The House is, with 800 members, too big and unmanageable, as Baroness Betty Boothroyd has pointed out. It should certainly be cut down in size.

Ironically, some of its members have said they would like to see an end to the Lords - and then jumped on board with alacrity when they were invited to do so.

Paddy Ashdown said that when he accepted an invitation to join, he would be working to destroy the place from within. I shall have to ask him how he is getting on with his demolition job. It is so far too subtle for me to discern.

• President Trump is certainly leaving the impression that since his inauguration, he has spent more of his time either on the golf course or insulting those who criticise him than in governing the country.

Some people may be relieved that this is the case.

Harold Macmillan used to take weeks off work, pack his bags with Anthony Trollope novels and sail all over the place.

That would be unthinkable now. Prime Ministers must give the impression that they never take their eye off the ball and constantly have their nose to the grindstone. All work and no play...